[ocr errors]

cannot conceive of any clear thinker about the matter holding that expression is not communication. Mr. Abercrombie says that there are such theorists, but I have not come across them; indeed he allows that even they are forced to admit that expression is communication, though by accident only. The whole point of the matter is to decide what is communication. Communication to whom? If it necessarily means communication from the artists to other people, then I do not at all believe that communication is in any important way the 'essence of art's activity. If it may be put so, I be

' lieve that the real cause of art is the necessity in the artist for communication with himself. Mr. Abercrombie goes on to instance a man looking at a landscape and finding it beautiful. He says that he is not thereby creating a work of art, but that in perceiving the beauty he is expressing his experience 'by the mere fact of [its) being distinctively and decisively known.' He then adds: Now suppose

this man is an artist. He desires, therefore, to achieve expression of experience. But if it is expression in the strictly limited sense, he has got it; he need do nothing more. Yet we know that he will show himself specifically to be an artist by the precise fact that he will do something more. He does not begin to be an artist until he begins to publish his experience. The expression he desires to achieve is external expression. You may say he is merely recording his experience. But for whose inspection? For his own? Certainly: but only for his own? Ask any artist, if you can charm him into a moment of candour. Or ask yourself, what are picture exhibitions for, what are publishing firms for, what are concerts for?

The answer to this seems to me to be that in merely looking at the landscape and finding it beautiful the man quite decidedly is not expressing his experience. He is not even expressing it silently to himself. He may enjoy it, he may even be content not to go beyond looking at it. But suppose him to be an artist, as Mr. Abercrombie says, what does that mean? It means that in beholding this thing, a landscape or whatever it is, he feels the urgent necessity not only of looking at it but in as complete a way as possible of understanding it. That is really the fundamental hunger of the human heart, to understand its own experience, and it is a hunger that can be satisfied in one way, and one way only, the taking of parts of that experience, as it were, isolating them from their irrelevant environment, and endowing them with the concrete form of art. It is precisely this that this man of whom we are speaking does, and it is in the actual doing of it that the experience becomes complete. It is only when he is forced to the extremely difficult business of achieving that concrete form of which I have spoken that he really perceives the object of his contemplation, that the experience, in fact, becomes complete. We can illustrate this fact by almost any well-known passage from poetry. We can imagine Shakespeare walking along a Stratford lane in winter, looking at the leafless trees, and thinking of the summer that had gone. But as he did this the experience both of the thing seen and the thing suggested, of the visible object and of the idea, was vague, enveloped in a mist of a thousand other thoughts that had no

a relation in particular to these things, inducing, no doubt, a wistfully pleasant mood, but not the exaltation of clean-cut imaginative fulfilment. It was

nly afterwards, when the moment returned to him, and insisted upon itself, and forced him to deal with it with more than the half indolence in which it had first passed, that he braced himself to the effort of putting down in set words 'Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang,' and the experience became complete. I do not believe that when he was creating that line Shakespeare either consciously or sub-consciously had any desire to communicate his experience to somebody else. I believe that his only purpose was to satisfy the demand of his own mind for the understanding of its experience, or, to keep more closely to our line of argument, to make an imperfect experience perfect. When Dr. Strachan

says, All art means that we have something to communicate. No poet dare claim that he is independent of his audience; otherwise his action in writing, printing, publishing is a sheer contradiction,

he, as it seems to me, overlooks this essential condition of creative process, just as Mr. Abercrombie does. Of the concerts and publishers, of which both of them speak, I shall have something to say in a moment. In the meantime, at the risk of repetition, I want to make my point a little more exhaustively if I can.

As to why there should be this hunger in the human mind, and as to the end to which it is leading us, I do not know that anybody can offer any sort of explanation. All we know is that the desire for completeness in experience, for mastering our own experience instead of being mastered by it, is one that dominates our lives. Complete understanding of our experience is the most satisfying condition to which we can attain, just as total inability to make this welter of experience intelligible to ourselves results in madness. We get examples of this in all sorts of apparently quite trivial things in the daily affairs of life. We know how troubled the mind can become when, say, we are talking to a friend about something quite important, and we are moving logically step by step towards a clearly seen end in our argument, and we are suddenly held up by, perhaps, our failure to recollect the name of somebody who is not important to the matter under consideration and of whom our friend has never heard. A tiny fragment of our experience, in this case so insignificant a fragment as the knowledge of a friend's name, has suddenly gone out of control and at once becomes an irritant quality. We know with what an apparently disproportionate sense of relief we may an hour later suddenly recall the name and break in upon the conversation to announce the fact. This is a trifling instance, but, I think, suggestive. The artist is the man who has this hunger for mastery over his experience, for understanding his own experience, more actively, perhaps, than is common. It is at once the glory and the tragedy of the artist's life. The glory because he more than others, is given a way in which to satisfy his hunger. The tragedy because he more than others, again, is desperately aware of great volumes of experience that he can never completely understand. And I believe that in the bringing of this chaos of experience into something like a cosmos in his own mind the artist, strictly speaking, has no ulterior purpose whatever. When he is creating he is not thinking of what his audience is going to say about his work when it is done. If he is thinking about this his work will inevitably suffer, because so surely as an artist begins to think about what people are going to say of his finished work, or, indeed, is consciously aware that they are going to pass any judgment upon it at all, so surely will he, little by little, begin to put into his work something that he thinks people would

« VorigeDoorgaan »